Russia to annex Ukrainian territories on Friday

President Vladimir Putin set to announce 'accession' of four regions

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Latest: Vladimir Putin annexes four regions of Ukraine despite international outcry

Russia will annex four occupied regions of Ukraine on Friday when President Vladimir Putin signs “treaties of accession” in Moscow in the presence of separatist leaders.

Mr Putin arrived for a signing ceremony at the Grand Kremlin Palace to finalise the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Beforehand, he notified the lower house of Russia's parliament of formal requests by pro-Kremlin authorities in the regions to be admitted to the Russian Federation.

The Russian president was to meet the Kremlin-installed leaders of the regions before the ceremony of incorporation.

Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Russian separatist and deputy head of Kherson region, said in Red Square: “Kherson region, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic will now forever be part of Russia.”

Western countries regard the annexations as illegal and the referendums leading to them as a sham.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Friday that Britain would never accept Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as "anything other than Ukrainian territory".

"Putin cannot be allowed to alter international borders using brute force. We will ensure he loses this illegal war," she said.

Before the ceremony, Mr Putin used a speech to intelligence chiefs from the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States to refer to the conflict in Ukraine as part of hostile western activity in the region and to say that Moscow was working to reverse the situation.

“The process of forming a fairer world order is happening before our eyes” he said.

“It’s accompanied by known, obvious problems. Unipolar hegemony is collapsing relentlessly, it’s an objective reality the West doesn’t want to accept.”

The votes on joining Russia held across the four regions this week have been widely rejected by the international community. Reports of armed men going door to door to collect ballots surfaced in several areas.

The annexation was widely expected after voting ended on Tuesday and Moscow said residents overwhelming supported the move to formally become part of Russia.

Moscow said 93 per cent of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, with 87 per cent backing the move in the Kherson region, 98 per cent in Luhansk and 99 per cent in Donetsk.

Ukraine dismissed the referendums as illegitimate and said it had every right to retake the territories.

Western powers condemned the “sham” votes and refused to recognise the results. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday joined other western officials in denouncing the referendums.

A man casts his ballot for a referendum at a polling station in Mariupol. AFP

“Under threats and sometimes even gunpoint, people are being taken out of their homes or workplaces to vote in glass ballot boxes,” she said in Berlin.

“This is the opposite of free and fair elections and this is the opposite of peace. It’s dictated peace.

“As long as this Russian diktat prevails in the occupied territories of Ukraine, no citizen is safe. No citizen is free.”

Finland will close its border to Russian tourists from midnight.

Ukrainian forces have taken more villages around Lyman, a city about 160 kilometres south-east of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said the Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports.

Lyman may soon be surrounded by Ukrainian forces, in what would be a major blow to Moscow’s war effort, the institute said.

“The collapse of the Lyman pocket will likely be highly consequential to the Russian grouping in northern Donetsk and western Luhansk oblasts and may allow Ukrainian troops to threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk,” it said.

Russian leaders “almost certainly” hope the accession announcement will vindicate their invasion of Ukraine, the UK Ministry of Defence said.

A British intelligence report claimed the number of Russian military-age men fleeing the country is likely to have exceeded the number of forces Moscow used to initially invade Ukraine in late February.

Updated: September 30, 2022, 12:44 PM
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